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Reese Witherspoon: The story huntress

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Reese Witherspoon
Reese Witherspoon, photographed for Emmy magazine in Los Angeles on Jan. 17, 2020.
(John Russo / Contour / Getty Images )

Reese Witherspoon wants to leave Hollywood a better place for women than she found it.

Through Pacific Standard, the production company she co-founded, and later a more expansive media operation named Hello Sunshine, Witherspoon has used her industry clout to take stories from book to screen. Raising the bar for both the quality and success of screen adaptations, she has produced projects that deepen the range of women’s narratives: In 2023 alone she put “Tiny Beautiful Things” on Hulu, Apple TV+ bought “The Last Thing He Told Me” and the megahit “Daisy Jones & the Six” streamed on Amazon.

Discover the changemakers who are shaping every cultural corner of Los Angeles. This week we bring you The Connectors, who understand that power doesn’t travel in a straight line and know how to connect the dots. Come back each Sunday for another installment.

Witherspoon, 48, starts with books she believes in. She’s known to approach authors personally to seek their blessing and obtain book rights.

As Cheryl Strayed recalled, until Witherspoon and her team came around, no one was exactly clamoring to adapt “Wild,” her memoir about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail alone.

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Not surprisingly, perhaps, Hollywood’s chattering class gossiped about why Witherspoon — “America’s sweetheart,” as Strayed called her — would choose to play a “crazy woman who’d been living in a cave.”

Witherspoon, who Strayed recalled just laughed off the whispers, was nominated for a 2015 Oscar for her portrayal of Strayed. And when Hello Sunshine picked up Strayed’s “Dear Sugar” advice columns to adapt into “Tiny Beautiful Things,” the doubters, if there were any left, had nothing to say.

‘There are some people who have success and pull the ladder up after them. And she’s doing the opposite.’

— Celeste Ng, novelist

Celeste Ng, whose novel “Little Fires Everywhere” Witherspoon transformed into the Emmy-nominated series, said that with Witherspoon at the helm, the soul of the work was carefully protected.

“Having somebody who has the platform she has and who is as smart as she is saying: ‘Here are these stories. There’s tons of them out there. They’re not hard to find. They’re worth seeing’ — that kind of boost is an amazing thing for her to be doing with her platform. Because it’s like passing the mic.”

That last point is key for Ng: “There are some people who have success and pull the ladder up after them. And she’s doing the opposite.”

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Witherspoon and her companies haven’t been immune from Hollywood’s ruthless economic forces as Hello Sunshine reportedly has struggled to deliver on expected profits. But Strayed agrees with Ng that Witherspoon’s work serves higher goals than merely filling our screens with fresh IP. Hello Sunshine, Strayed said, is correcting “false stories told about women — or at least narrow stories; she’s trying to broaden that to represent what’s actually reflected in reality.”

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